Upcycled Art

'I didn’t want to make more stuff, or use more resources or fossil fuels, to express my creative ideas.'

Aurora Robson’s sculptures are eye-catching, to put it mildly. Their clean lines, bright colors, and unique shapes spark joy. And though not obvious at first glance, they are also made entirely out of plastic that’s been intercepted from the waste stream. That’s a big part of the point.

“A lot of creative industries in cities all over the world create, just for our entertainment as a species, an incredible amount of waste,” says Robson, who knew she wanted to be an artist from a young age. “I didn’t want to make more stuff, or use more resources or fossil fuels, to express my creative ideas.”

Emboldened by well-known artists who were making their own unique choices in the 1990s — like Tom Friedman, who was sculpting with toothpaste, pencils, and pasta — Robson turned to plastic waste as a material that would allow her to create while easing her guilt about creating more waste.

Artistically, the decision to use plastic wasn’t really a compromise. Its virtually infinite shelf life, or as Robson says, its “archival quality,” is unquestionably “terrible for the planet.” But that same quality also makes it “fantastic for art.”

She also hoped that by working in the space between the two truths — by showing that a troublesome product can also become something beautiful — she’d be able to highlight the problem with plastics in a way that was still “art first.”

Robson’s sculptures certainly manage to get that message across. Using anything from detergent bottles to industrial laundry barrels to highway safety drums — all lovingly cleaned, and transformed into raw materials — she creates giant sculptures like Kuleana, a stark-white work that seems to grow from the Earth, and Ding Dang, a mesmerizing installation currently on display at Goucher College in Baltimore, and smaller, playful sculptures like Synesthesia and Hotrodicus which manage to remain lighthearted despite the heavy message their materials convey.

Learn more about Aurora Robson’s work at aurorarobson.com

Over the course of Robson’s career, plastic has only become more ubiquitous. Confronting all this waste can be taxing. Which is part of why, in 2009, Robson formed Project Vortex, a collective of artists, designers, and architects working with plastic debris, or as she describes it, “a support network for other artists” tackling plastic pollution.

Robson also finds some peace in the process of collecting plastic materials from others, easing the burden of their waste, and keeping some small amount of plastic out of our landfills.

“Most people are living in the tyranny of the moment,” she says. “They don’t have the time or the money to have a zero-waste lifestyle … I love the idea of helping facilitate that in my own little way, in my own practice, as much as I can.”

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